The United States Census Bureau estimates a person with only a high school diploma will earn about $1 million over a lifetime, while a person with an Associates degree will earn about $1.6 million over a lifetime. Those with a Bachelors degree will add another half-million to their lifetime income. College makes a difference.
But the barriers to a college education aren’t simply financial. Research has shown many factors affect a student’s ability to succeed in college. These include home life, gender, ethnicity, family support, and more. It’s an understatement to say that predicting college success is complex.
One thing we do know is students need to have a good background in math, science, reading, and writing to succeed. While no test is a perfect indicator of a student’s ability to succeed in college, tests like the ACT, which now are administered to virtually every high school junior in the state, give us a good look at how well prepared our students are for college.
According to data reported by ACT, in colleges located in central Illinois, the average ACT score for the most recent incoming freshmen at four-year schools ranged from 21.4 at Eureka College to 28.6 at Illinois Wesleyan University. The average ACT score for incoming freshmen at ISU was 23.9; at Bradley, 25.0; at Augustana, 25.7; and at the University of Illinois—Champaign/Urbana, 27.7. Incoming average scores for freshman at Eastern, Western, and Northern were around 22, which is the national average. Many schools also required at least a 2.5 grade point average (on a four-point scale) or more to be accepted. Four-year schools in Illinois, and rightly so, look for evidence of academic achievement and promise before admitting students to college. That means not every student in our community has the credentials to be accepted at these colleges—no matter how interested they are in attending.
There are many local students whose ACT scores and academic performance keep them from realizing the promise of a college education. The State Board of Education reports the average ACT scores for some of our high schools are as low as 14.8. In the State of Illinois, the average ACT score is 20.1, below the national norm of 22. So regardless of what financial aid and other incentives we may promise, many of our high school students simply aren’t prepared to succeed in college.
So how do we reach these students? Illinois Central College is a community college that provides open admissions to students. That means we take any student who wants to come to school to get a college education. We provide remediation, financial aid, career counseling, personal counseling, and other support for students to give them a good chance to succeed. And if a student earns an Associates degree at Illinois Central College, through the Illinois Articulation Initiative, that student can transfer to any other IAI four-year college or university.
In the end, to help all students in the greater Peoria area realize the promise of a college education, we first have to help them develop skills they need to succeed in college. That begins with supporting and aiding our local elementary and high schools and giving them the resources to back up our rhetoric. IBI